Saturday, February 21, 2015

Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.

In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life. 

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

Received for review.

I was unable to limp through Eat, Pray, Love and had zero desire to see the movie so I was unsure how enjoyable of a read this would be but turned out to be reasonably good.

The main problem was that I just did not care for the characters.  Alma was supposed to be interesting but she just seemed rather bland and just like the other five zillion other female characters set in the 1800s.  There was nothing compelling about her story and she wasn't particularly likable as a person either.  I just felt no emotional connection with her at all.  I frankly spent the entire book not caring one way or the other what happened to her. And her relationship with her husband was just too predictable that it was laughable, if I'd been able to laugh at that point.

The writing was good but some sections went on and on and on.  There were just large chunks of the book that simply would not end.  Then, inexplicably, the story made a sudden time jump.  Sometimes it was months, sometimes it was years.  It was incredibly frustrating.

Overall this was a decent read if not particularly wonderful.  If you've enjoyed the author's previous works I'm sure you will enjoy this as well however this is perhaps not the best book to introduce you to the author's work if you haven't read her before.

★★☆☆☆ = Just Okay

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techeditor said...

I read this, too, but had a different reaction to it. I had never read Gilbert but didn't expect to like this because the descriptions I had read of her books didn't interest me. But I won this and felt I had to review it. So I was surprised.

I felt that this was one of the best novels of 2013. I know a book is a winner when I hate to see it end. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is too good to end, so it passes that test.

I didn't love Alma, either. But I loved the description of her life. Too many books insult my intelligence. This one doesn't. That's the best kind of literature.

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